Rainey Institute

Building on Anna Edwards' Dream

If Anna M. Edwards, the first Director (then called "Superintendent") of the Eleanor B. Rainey Memorial Institute could attend an El Sistema concert today, she would probably at first be surprised that the Institute was involved in such a thing. But once she came to understand what music, and other visual and performing arts, programs at Rainey were doing for the children of Cleveland's Hough neighborhood, she would, while perhaps personally noting the irony of it all, be very pleased.

Anna M. Edwards dreamed of a career in music. Born in the Dayton, Ohio, area in 1849, she was the daughter of a Presbyterian minister who had moved his family to Cleveland near the end of the Civil War. Here, she attended local schools and then studied music at the Oberlin Conservatory of Music. By 1870, she was teaching music at the Lake Erie Seminary (today, Lake Erie College). However, when she was just 25 years old, her music career came to an end as a result of her involvement in the Women's Crusade (1873-1874), a national protest movement by women against America's saloon keepers. Edwards, according to her friend Edith Stivers, was persuaded by Frances Willard, legendary temperance reformer and women's suffragist, to give up her music career and go to work for the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU), a national organization led entirely by women that grew out of the Crusade and which was formally organized here in Cleveland in 1874.  

Edwards became the WCTU's Superintendent of Scientific Temperance Instruction for Ohio. This position required her to travel around the state, and later around the country, giving temperance lectures wherever she went. After a decade or so of this exhausting work, she began spending more of her time working at the non-partisan WCTU mission on St. Clair Street (St. Clair Avenue) near Willson Avenue (East 55th Street). The mission was located in a neighborhood that was brimming with saloons and home to many Eastern European immigrants, especially Slovenians. One day, according to accounts by several of her contemporaries, Edwards saw several young boys making a delivery of beer to a local saloon. They were drinking the "dregs" of the beer they were delivering and appeared to be intoxicated. Witnessing this was an epiphany for her. She decided then and there to devote the rest of her life to keeping boys like these away from saloons.

In 1888, Edwards took over the chairmanship of a WCTU reading room located on Willson Avenue, re-energized the neighborhood "Band of Hope" (a temperance pledge youth group), and opened the Flag Coffee House (so-called because of the flags she placed in its windows). The coffee house openly and actively competed with nearby saloons by offering boys a full dinner and a cup of coffee for just ten cents. Her work with the boys of this neighborhood eventually caught the attention of Eleanor B. Rainey, the widow of a wealthy Cleveland industrialist, who offered to provide Edwards with a larger and better facility for her work.  Rainey purchased a lot on the northeast corner of Willson and Dibble Avenues and built on it a three-story, 9,000-square-foot building, designed in the Tudor style by architects Badgley and Nicklas to resemble a large house. Officially called the Willson Avenue Industrial Institute, it opened in 1904. It had offices, and reading and game rooms, on the first floor; classrooms and a gymnasium on the second floor; and a custodian's apartment on the third floor. (Walfred and Anna Danielson, immigrants from Sweden and Canada respectively, and their son Harold, lived in that apartment and worked for the Institute for much of the period 1904-1940.)  

Just one year after the Institute opened, it was faced with a crisis that threatened its continued existence. Eleanor Rainey, its benefactor, suddenly died. The crisis was resolved when her heirs stepped in and agreed to continue their mother's support of the Institute's work, and the non-partisan WCTU (later known as the Women's Philanthropic Union) agreed to rename the Institute the "Eleanor B. Rainey Memorial Institute."  For the next half-century, the operations of Rainey as a settlement house were funded by Eleanor Rainey's heirs, particularly by her daughter Grace Rainey Rogers, who became sole owner of the building on East 55th Street and Dibble Avenues in 1931 and the sole surviving child of Eleanor Rainey in 1938. During this period, Rainey Institute functioned as a traditional settlement house, offering instruction in industrial trades for boys, home economics instruction (and also stenography and bookkeeping) for girls, and youth recreational activities. One of the young Slovenian boys who benefitted from these programs was Frank Lausche. He grew up to become Cleveland mayor (1942-1944), Ohio governor (1949-1957), and one of Ohio's United States Senators (1957-1969).

Anna Edwards served as superintendent of Rainey Institute until her death in 1923. She was succeeded by her younger sister, Flora, who served until her death in 1949. Upon her death, Flora Edwards was succeeded by Jessie Peloubet, whose mother was a close friend and associate of the Edwards sisters. Already 67 years old when she became superintendent, Peloubet faced many challenges during the decade of the 1950s. In 1957, the Goodrich settlement house moved from E. 31st Street to a location on E. 55th Street just up the street from Rainey Institute. The new Goodrich-Gannett neighborhood center, and several local organizations that provided funding to Cleveland settlement houses, put pressure on Rainey to either close, merge with Goodrich-Gannett, or move elsewhere.

Additionally, the decade of the 1950s saw the Hough neighborhood in which Rainey was located undergo racial transition, changing from primarily white and middle or working class in 1950 to primarily African American and working or lower class by 1960. Finally, the estate of Grace Rainey Rogers, Rainey's benefactor, who died in 1943, remained in administration well into the 1950s, forcing Peloubet to deal with estate executors and trustees in New York for the Institute's operational expenses. In 1955, pursuant to the terms of Rogers' will, the Rainey Institute land and building were finally conveyed from the estate to a newly formed non-profit corporation and a board of trustees was appointed that was charged with the financial management of an endowment left by Rogers for the continuing operating expenses of Rainey. 

The record is silent as to how well Peloubet addressed these challenges, but by the end of 1959 she was no longer Rainey's superintendent, and, for a six-month period, Rainey was administered by League Park Center, Inc., a social services agency that was located, like Rainey, in the Hough neighborhood. According to an article which appeared later in the Cleveland Press on May 19, 1964, Rainey almost closed during this period. Shirley Lautenschlager, a social worker with a degree from Western Reserve University's School of Applied Social Sciences, was hired by the board of trustees in June 1960 to become the new director, of Rainey--the title of "superintendent" apparently having been discarded. Lautenschlager, who noted that, when she arrived, Rainey was functioning as little more than a recreation center, instituted a number of new social programs at Rainey that were intended to serve Hough's current population, including after school care for seven to twelve year olds; activities for teenagers including game rooms, clubs, and dances; and gardening, cake decorating and sewing classes. Several years later, in 1964, following the taking of a survey in the Hough neighborhood, Rainey also began offering piano lessons to the children of Hough. These and other music classes proved so popular with the neighborhood's parents and children that two years later Rainey Institute decided to concentrate its efforts solely in the field of music, becoming an affiliate of Cleveland Music Settlement in 1966. The institute also appointed a new Director that year who had a background in both music and social work.

For Rainey Institute, Zandra Richardson, the new Director hired in 1966, was like the second coming of founder Anna Edwards. Like Edwards, Richardson came to Cleveland from the Dayton area, and like Edwards, Richardson's first love was music. Both Edwards and Richardson became involved in social services because of their desire to help children in need and both ultimately worked for more than four decades helping children in what is today Cleveland's Hough neighborhood. Zandra Richardson, who served as Director from 1966 until 2008, left a deep imprint on the history and evolution of Rainey Institute as an arts center for underprivileged children. During her tenure, many new music and other arts programs were introduced at Rainey. One of the earliest new programs was a summer camp program promoted by Cleveland Music Settlement and Karamu House in 1967, the first summer following the 1966 Hough Riots. At summer camp, African American children were introduced to art, drama, African drumming, vocal music and dance. Several years later, Rainey expanded the summer camp program to include drama, art and music, and dance. Kids attending also received instruction in reading, math, and creative writing, and participated in recreational activities.

As time passed, Rainey's focus as a music and arts center gradually changed as theater and dance became more popular than music instruction. As a result, in 1997 Rainey severed its affiliate status with Cleveland Music Settlement. During first half of Richardson's directorship, she and Rainey's Board of Trustees, anchored by long-time trustee Theodore Horvath who worked tirelessly to preserve Rainey Institute's endowment, also initiated a long-term plan to build a new and larger facility so that more children in Hough and other nearby neighborhoods could be introduced to the visual and performing arts. In 2011, just three years after Richardson retired as Director, and with the guidance of new Director, Lee Lazar, many Cleveland businesses and charitable organizations, and Cleveland Councilwoman Fannie Lewis, Rainey Institute opened its new 27,500-square-foot Arts Center, just down the street from the old Rainey Institute building. In the same year as the new Arts Center opened, Isabel Trautwein, a violinist with the Cleveland Orchestra, established an El Sistema string orchestra program at Rainey. El Sistema, one of the most notable programs at Rainey today, promotes peaceful social change through music.

Under the directorship of Richardson and her successors, there have been many success stories at Rainey, of students who went on to have fulfilling careers in many different fields of endeavor ranging from music to government service to teaching to the business world. One of those former Rainey students is Stephanie D. Howse, an African American woman who had a successful career as an environmental engineer, before turning to public service and becoming State Representative from Ohio's 11th District. Today, Rainey Institute is a thriving art center, each year serving more than 2,500 children like Howse who hail from the Hough and other nearby neighborhoods of the City of Cleveland. And the old Rainey Institute Building? It has not been forgotten by the City of Cleveland, which made it a Cleveland Landmark in 2018. In 2020, the building was added to the National Register of Historic Places.  From an early twentieth-century settlement house founded by a woman who gave up a career in music to help immigrant children threatened by saloons to a twenty-first century arts center, which uses music and other visual and performing arts to cultivate self-expression and promote social emotional growth in a new demographic of disadvantaged children in the neighborhood, Rainey Institute has come full circle, a statement with which Anna M. Edwards would certainly agree, even if she did find it ironic.


Willson Avenue Industrial Institute
Willson Avenue Industrial Institute So the settlement house founded by Anna M. Edwards, and financed by Eleanor B. Rainey, was first named when it opened in 1904, the year that this undated photograph was likely taken. Then, it provided services to hundreds of East European immigrant children living in what is today Cleveland's Hough neighborhood. A year later, following the sudden death of Rainey, it was renamed the Eleanor B. Rainey Memorial Institute and an oval-shaped memorial plaque added to the front of the building. Source: Western Reserve Historical Society
Anna M. Edwards (1849-1923)
Anna M. Edwards (1849-1923) The founder of Rainey Institute, Edwards was an early activist in the Woman's Christian Temperance Union (WCTU) and a friend of the organization's most well-known nineteenth century leader, Frances Willard. When one day she came upon a group of young immigrant boys, working and drinking beer in a saloon near what is today East 55th Street and St. Clair Avenue, she curtailed her organizational work with the WCTU and devoted the rest of her life to providing young boys in what is today Cleveland's Hough neighborhood with healthier alternatives to hanging around local saloons. The caption to this undated photo identifies her as Superintendent of the Willson Avenue Reading Room, a position she assumed in 1888 when she was about 39 years old, which may be when the photo was taken. Source: Album of the Western Reserve Centennial (Edw. H. Clark & Co., Cleveland, 1896)
Traveling Across the Country
Traveling Across the Country In November 1880, Anna M. Edwards travelled to Leadville, Colorado to deliver temperance speeches to a community then known nationally for its intemperance. This article from the Cleveland Leader, applauding her work there, appeared in that newspaper on November 11, 1880. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Newspaper Collection
Give the Boys a Chance
Give the Boys a Chance In this Letter to the Editor, which appeared in the Cleveland Leader edition of December 23, 1893, Edwards, then head of the Non-Partisan WCTU Reading Room at 901 Willson Avenue (today, approximately 1575 East 55th Street), explains her mission work with young boys--then largely the children of East European immigrants-- living in what today is Cleveland's Hough neighborhood. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Newspaper Collection
An Exciting Beginning.
An Exciting Beginning. A year after the Willson Avenue Industrial Institute (shortly thereafter renamed the Eleanor B. Rainey Memorial Instiute) opened in 1904, a Plain Dealer reporter exuberantly reported on the good work that Anna Edwards was doing with children living in what is today's Hough neighborhood. Source: Cleveland Public Library, Digital Newspaper Collection
Eleanor Beatty Rainey (1842-1905)
Eleanor Beatty Rainey (1842-1905) The wife of wealthy Cleveland industrialist, William J. Rainey, she devoted her life to many charitable causes. After her husband's death in 1900, she became interested in Anna M. Edward's temperance work among the East European immigrant children of what is today Cleveland's Hough neighborhood. In 1903, she purchased land on the northeast corner of East 55th Street and Dibble Avenue, and undertook to build a settlement house there so that Edwards could expand her work in the neighborhood. The new settlement house was at first called the Willson Avenue Industrial Institute when it opened in 1904, but the name was changed to the Eleanor B. Rainey Memorial Institute upon the sudden and unexpected death of Mrs. Rainey in 1905. Source: Eleanor B. Rainey Memorial Institute
Restoring an old Settlement House
Restoring an old Settlement House In the early 1960s, under the leadership of Director Shirley Luatrschlager, Rainey Institute was renovated and slowly began to provide better services to the African-American children who now lived in Cleveland's Hough neighborhood. The Institute is getting a fresh coating of paint in this 1962 photo. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Identifier rainey003.jpg, Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections, Creator: Clayton Knipper Date: November 9, 1962
Fostering Pride in Home Ownership
Fostering Pride in Home Ownership One of the new programs at Rainey Institute in the early 1960s was home gardening. It was likely intended to improve the Hough neighborhood and foster pride in home ownership there. This photograph was taken at Rainey Institute in 1962. Source: Cleveland Memory Project, Identifier rainey006.jpg, Cleveland State University, Michael Schwartz Library, Special Collections Creator: Clayton Knipper Date: June 26, 1963
A Dedicated Director and Board of Trustees
A Dedicated Director and Board of Trustees Rainey Institute successfully weathered some turbulent years in the second half of the twentieth century in large part due to its Director, Zandra Richardson, and a dedicated Board of Trustees led by Theodore Horvatz who carefully managed Rainey's finances.. In this circa 1985 photo, the Board is meeting in the basement of Rainey Institute. The woman in the middle of the photo is Director Zandra Richardson (with her daughter Rebecca next to her). Zandra served as Rainey Institute Director from 1966 to 2008. Sitting closest to her is Board member Theodore Horvatz, who became a board member in 1958, and, as of 2019, was still serving on the board. Source: Zandra Richardson
A Place for Head Start Children
A Place for Head Start Children In 1989, Cleveland Electric Illuminating Company (CEI) donated this playhouse for the use of young children at Rainey Institute participating in Cleveland's Head Start program. On delivery day, a number of young children eagerly watch the playhouse's arrival. Source: Western Reserve Historical Society
Recounting Rainey History
Recounting Rainey History In 1994, Rainey Institute students celebrated the Institute's 90th anniversary by performing a play at the Cleveland Natural Museum of History, outlining the history of Rainey Institute. Source: Zandra Richardson
Drama Students Perform
Drama Students Perform In 2002, Rainey students performed "Wind of a Thousand Tales, at Cuyahoga Community College. This photo is of the entire cast. Source: Zandra Richardson
Performing for the Hough Neighborhood
Performing for the Hough Neighborhood Rainey Institute children sing camp songs from the Cleveland Show Wagon at the City's Summer Festival. The Show Wagon was parked curbside on Dibble Avenue near East 55th Street. The photo was taken in circa 2005. Source: Zandra Richardson
Celebrating Summer's End
Celebrating Summer's End Parents of Rainey Institute Summer Campers gaather for a Pot Luck dinner on the grounds of the old Rainey building. According to former Director Zandra Richardson, events like these helped Rainey Institute to reach out to residents of Cleveland's Hough neighborhood. This 2005 photo was taken from atop the Play-Scape in Rainey's "Outback." Source: Zandra Richardson
Sitting on Well-worn Steps.
Sitting on Well-worn Steps. In this circa 2005 photo, Rainey students sit on one of their favorite places at the old Rainey Institute Building. As of that year, children had been sitting, and walking up and down, those stairs for more than 100 years. Source: Zandra Richardson
A New and Larger Rainey Institute
A New and Larger Rainey Institute In 2011, after more than 25 years of planning and fundraising, Rainey Institute opened its doors to a new larger and more modern facility at 1705 East 55th Street. Source: Eleanor B. Rainey Memorial Institute
A More Modern and More Suitable Facility for the Arts
A More Modern and More Suitable Facility for the Arts The stage and auditorium at the new Rainey Institute Building. Photo taken in 2019. Source: Eleanor B. Rainey Memorial Institute


1705 E 55th St, Cleveland, OH 44103 | You can call 216-881-1766 for information about visiting the Rainey Institute at 1705 East 55th Street. The old Rainey Institute building, which is located just up the street at 1523 East 55th, is under private ownership and less accessible..


Jim Dubelko, “Rainey Institute,” Cleveland Historical, accessed June 23, 2024, https://clevelandhistorical.org/index.php/items/show/869.